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Former major leaguer John living good life in Watertown

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WATERTOWN — As a native of the Midwest, Tommy John has experienced harsh winters before, just none like this past one.

Now a full-time resident of the north country, John, a former major-league pitching standout, didn’t anticipate what was in store when he moved to the area in December.

With spring finally here, John was more than happy to talk baseball as he spoke Wednesday at the Italian American Civic Association’s latest sports night dinner.

“My God, I’ve never experienced anything like this,” John said of this past winter. “And I’ve lived up north — I was born and raised in Indiana. It makes you appreciate the spring, that’s for sure.”

John, who relocated to the area to live with his companion Cheryl Zeldin, is looking forward to summer time in the region, including checking out what it offers in outdoor recreation.

“This is a great place to live,” said the 70-year-old John, who resides in Watertown. “We play golf and we’ve joined Ives Hill (Country Club) in town, so that’s going to be fun.”

John just returned from Los Angeles, where surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe, a pioneer in the field of sports medicine who passed away on March 6, was honored. Jobe was the first to perform the elbow procedure, which became known as Tommy John Surgery.

“Dr. Jobe was a great friend,” said John, who underwent the first procedure in 1974 after suffering an injury to a ligament in his pitching arm earlier that year with the Los Angeles Dodgers. After the successful surgery, he went on to pitch 15 more seasons in the major leagues.

John attended a “celebration of life” in honor of Jobe, which was emceed by long-time Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully. On Monday, the Dodgers renamed their training room after Jobe, who devised the tendon-transplant surgery.

While pitchers such as Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals have been recent success stories after undergoing Tommy John surgery, there have already been a host of season-ending elbow ligament injuries to pitchers in the major leagues so far this year that require the surgery.

“It’s unreal,” said John, who pitched for the six major league teams, including the Dodgers and New York Yankees, winning 288 games in the majors. “And it’s crazy that they would pick 2014 to be an epidemic year, it seems like guys are going down right and left.”

Mets reliever Bobby Parnell injured his right elbow in his first regular-season game this year, a setback that will require the procedure.

Pitchers who have already been sidelined include three Atlanta Braves — Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen and Cory Gearrin — as well Patrick Corbin of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Jarrod Parker of the Oakland Athletics and Luke Hochevar of the Kansas City Royals.

“In essence, the injury itself is a buildup of over-use,” John said of pitching arms. “And not overuse as an adult, but oveuse as a kid.”

John was quick to offer his insight to the higher frequency of elbow injuries among pitchers.

“What I would like to see these guys do, these surgeons and all,” said John, “is ask all the guys who have had the surgery — how much did you pitch as a kid and how often, and did you pitch year round? And nowadays, probably 70 to 80 percent of the pitchers today have been pitching 12 months a year since they were seven, eight or nine years old. And your arm is not made for that.”

John, who owns a baseball school of his own, tries to discourage youth and teenage pitchers from throwing all year long.

“They’re taught to throw a lot when they’re young,” John said. “And then it just builds up and builds up until they’re like 24, 25 or 26 and their ligaments weaken. And they keep throwing and keep throwing — and it’s a shame.

“Throwing pitches in the big leagues will not hurt your arm,” John said. “It’s what you did down the road when you were younger.”

While John is looking forward to spending much of the summer in the area, he likely won’t spend next winter in the north country.

“I said to my girlfriend ‘I love you, but I will not spend another winter up here,’” John said with a laugh. “We’ll be in Palm Beach (Fla.). But there’s some golf to be played between now and then.”

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